Don’t get yourself in a fix!

Let’s get down to the fixings with respect to wood-based flooring says Jim Coulson

I’VE OFTEN talked about different types of wood-based flooring (I’ve especially written a lot about plywood but I’ve also mentioned chipboard and softwood and hardwood floor boards. I’ve even written about using hardboard for a change!)

And I’ve also advised on the uses of adhesives and getting the correct moisture content in your wood-based flooring materials. But I can’t recall ever having talked about fixings, when using those aforementioned wood-based products.

Many people will nail down plywood when using it to overlay an old boarded floor and that’s a perfectly good option. But should you be using plain nails or ring-shank nails? That’s an oft-asked question.

And in my view, either type of nail is acceptable. Although many people these days prefer to use ring-shank nails, which will better resist pulling out or working loose.

Of course, you could also use screws – and people sometimes do so – but the withdrawal value (ie the resistance to being pulled out) of screws or ring-shank nails is pretty much identical.

The main advantage with using screws to fix down your overlayment material is that you don’t have to hammer them in with a lot of banging – which may be a very good thing, if there’s a sensitive ceiling (or maybe sensitive neighbours!) immediately below.

And what about hardboard – which I wrote about a few months ago? You can get special ‘lost head’ hardboard pins from fixing down hardboard, which do a very good job: and they’ll resist withdrawal very well, because hardboard is so dense it’s very difficult to ‘pull through’ any fixings embedded in it.

That’s almost the complete opposite to most plywood – especially those thin ones used for overlayment – which are usually made from fairly low density wood species: and so the use of small gauge (narrow) fixings, with very small heads, isn’t a good idea at all.

Of course, flooring isn’t always about overlayment of wood-based products onto old floors. Often, you might be fixing a new chipboard floor or maybe installing floorboards, perhaps.

In the former case, it’s quite usual to screw down the chipboard as an extra precaution against it ‘squeaking’ when being walked on; whereas floorboards – or at least, softwood ones – are more usually nailed down to the floor joists.

Traditionally, so-called ‘cut’ nails were used for this purpose, which have a flat profile that sits snugly along the line of the wood grain and so helps to prevent the boards from splitting during nailing – if you put the nails in the right way around, that is (and no, I don’t mean upside-down, head-first!).

Very often, the choice of fixings can be personal. Or it may be dictated by site conditions and/or the type of material being fixed down, as I have outline above.

But one very important thing needs to be done in addition to ensuring the fixings are properly secure: you must also ensure the holes and/or indents made by the nail/screw heads are properly filled, before any final flooring is put onto the boards or panels.
And that last job may well be the subject of another article…

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Jim Coulson is director and technical timber consultant at TFT Woodexperts